By Lou Cespedes
Last week on July 8th, what may have at first seemed like a recurring tactical request by CM Joe Borelli of Staten Island – to cancel the West Indian Day Parade – turned out to be nothing less than a strategic coup. For about 24 hours CM Borelli used “Defund the Police” to imply that security at the Parade would be compromised. He controlled the narrative on social media about the link between the parade’s past amid the current wave of rising gun violence. The following day, Mayor DeBlasio cancelled all large gatherings through September. But if you believe this opinion will focus on the obvious racism and opportunism of Borelli’s statement you would be mistaken! Borelli is just a boogie man, a stand in for the real culprits. The true questions are: What did Borelli know that we didn’t? and Why weren’t our leaders dictating the terms of cancelling our own community’s most important event.
What we must do now is solve the murder of Caribbean leadership in Central Brooklyn. We must wash the decomposing putrid skin tissue, we need to cleanse the corpse, prepare for an autopsy, and forensically examine the cause of its death. The inability of our business leaders and elected officials to predict, address, and respond, to what could only be characterized as an attack on our culture by an outsider, is evidence of our Caribbean leadership’s untimely death. Their silence is only marginally less offensive than the acquiescence forced upon our community by the impotence of our own business and political figures. The list of suspects and those complicit in the death of Caribbean leadership is long. Let us begin.
This past April, I learned from very reliable sources that the stakeholders and organizers of the parade were on the fence about canceling the event despite sky-high infections and deaths. WIADCA’s leadership was lackadaisical and overconfident that the health crisis would subside, making no effort to plan contingencies for the event. Infighting, dysfunction, and factionalism which have long plagued WIADCA’s upper ranks can be laid at the feet of its longtime godmother, Chairwoman Angela Sealy. Weeks later, Dr. Roy Hastick, founder of CACCI (Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry) passed away from COVID-19 complications. An outpouring of sympathy from many corners of our community did not translate into any significant conversations about the eminent future of businesses in our community. As the days dragged on, news that only 13% of black businesses received PPP did not seem to cause the outrage I would’ve anticipated. Speaking to a few vendors at the shuttered Caton Market annex, I learned that not only CACCI, but also the management and promotion agency, Urbane Development, through its CEO James Johnson-Piett and the Caton Market Manager Lisa Thompson were both AWOL, providing virtually no direction to legacy vendors. Their recent paltry fundraiser is a smokescreen for their early inaction, engineered to tank legacy vendors with preferential rent.
The systemic failures continued have from here, illustrating not only the abdication of local business leadership, but also from city-wide and local elected officials. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams – whose job it is to advocate for us, was completely silent on the PPP fiasco. The Mayor’s office of Small Business Services basically surrendered, arguing that black businesses were too unprepared and unprofessional to qualify, much less navigate the application process for PPP loans. This was a tacit admission by the former SBS commissioner Gregg Bishop (and Caribbean black man raised in Flatbush), that our own business community was not worth helping.
As June pressed on and primary voting season was well underway, Congresswoman Clarke, whose mother Dr. Una Clarke, is a pioneer in Caribbean business and political circles, and a stalwart of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, was nowhere to be found on PPP or COVID. Somehow, she won the Democratic primary. As of this writing, she has also been mum on the cancellation of the parade. Current CM Farah Louis, and CM Matthieu Eugene of neighboring 45thand 40th council districts, politically aligned with the Haitian axis of Kings County Democratic Party Chair, Rodneyse Bichotte, were also conspicuously quiet. Bichotte works in silence to ensure that the State Assembly oversees the redrawing of districts designed to choke out competition and ensure Haitian grip on local power at the expense of West Indian residents’ welfare and interests.
Finally, we the electorate, are due for a very long look in the mirror, as enablers of mediocrity and corruption. When we are asked to be counted for the 2020 Census, we refuse, insisting instead that our voice and number don’t matter, or that we can’t trust those that are counting us. Our representation and economic fortunes evaporate as we remain statistically hidden. When we watched and heard Caribbean leadership being murdered, we closed our curtains and locked our doors. We ignored the screams and desperate pleas from merchants, service providers, and healthcare workers – and today, from teachers and parents desperately looking for solutions for work and the new school year in the fall – to say nothing of the children that without schools, will surely be gunned down on our streets. It is heartbreaking; but again – we collectively own this silence and this failure as well.
J’Ouvert is French for “the dawn or opening”, but ironically its cancellation this year marks a protracted season of death; the death of many businesses, the death of loved ones, and most importantly the death of our cultural leadership and foothold in this little Caribbean island of Flatbush.
The West Indian Day parade’s cancellation was not only warranted, it was inevitable. The manner of its cancellation is a harbinger of gentrification and is a demonstration of how our so-called leaders are invested in bankrupting our community. In our hands was the ability to plan and prepare our community’s small businesses and informal vendors for the added shock of missing out on one of the most important revenue seasons of the year.
CM Borelli didn’t win the argument; sadly, we simply chose to lose it.
Jeremiah 9 v.19-21